Problems That Cannot be “Fixed” – Part 1

I have had the great luck to be the student leader of some amazing organizations on campus.  Maybe it’s just me and the fact that I am often displeased with the status quo, I find myself faced with “turn-around” jobs when I take over the leadership of these organizations.  One way I evaluate the health of an organization is by looking at how many people compete to become leaders of an organization (if there’s an actual “vote”).  If there are no competitors, that means the organization failed at growing passionate, young leaders.  It also means that the organization itself is not worth the time.  When I see this, I get scared, but then I get psyched about the potential to learn a lot and really do something great.  I’ve heard from some CEOs and PE fund managers that turn-around jobs are the hardest, and people should think twice before committing to avoid falling in the ego trap and end up a mess.  I am not experienced, but I can definitely see what they mean.

Keeping it rolling with that theme.  When I take over organizations, I do a complete assessment to identify every single thing that is wrong with the organization.  I am meticulous about looking at everything, and from there, coming up with ways that we could “fix” everything.  So in typical Ricky fashion, I change and shake things up when I come in.  Partly because I very much believe in the idea that for organizations that have “institutionalized problems,” or hard-to-fix problems that have been with the organization for a long time, the only way to really change and improve is to completely shake it up.  I got this idea from Prof. Behnam Tabrizi, who specializes in “organizational transformations” and teaches MS&E 134 (Organizations and Information Systems) – probably my favorite class at Stanford.  I usually restructure some parts of the organization, bring in a set of people that I’ve worked with and trust, and really lay down solutions to implement in order to address every single thing that is wrong with the organization.

Last year when I led my business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, I had a great team.  I dived into the set of problems I had identified in the beginning, and was really hands-on and tunnel-visioned.  One-by-one, we made changes, implemented improvements on existing processes, added new things.  For example, if the fraternity was not close enough, then we made more “social events.”  If the fraternity wanted more “professional” help (since it is a professional fraternity), then we made more “professional events.”  If the attendance was poor, then we called everybody before meeting, or even more drastically, kept track and started fining people for not showing up.  We accomplished A LOT of things, and these “fixes” definitely were worthwhile, however, they did not really work or get to the core of the problem.  My team worked and worked and got really burned out because of the poor feedback we were receiving from our work.  I tried to be inspirational to my team, and I communicated everything to the entire fraternity.  It’s like putting bandages on cuts, we were trying to fix problems without really understanding the root causes.  I made one bad decision, and that one bad decision was probably something that I was remembered for, not the incremental improvements I made across the board.  Shameful.  To be continued…

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